Green Grid to release new data center efficiency tools

The tools are for calculating data center efficiency and for designing an efficient power distribution network

The Green Grid Consortium will release two free tools in the coming months to help companies measure and improve the energy efficiency of their data centers.

The new tools are both Web-based and will be available through the Green Grid's Web site by the end of March. The consortium is presenting them at its third annual conference on Thursday in San Jose, California.

The consortium, whose members are a mix of vendors and end-user companies, was set up three years ago to develop tools and recommendations for improving data center efficiency.

One of the tools is the Power Efficiency Estimator. It's intended mainly for companies building new data centers or doing retrofits, and allows them to compare the efficiency of different topographies and equipment to help design the most power-efficient layout.

"It's a tool that lets you specify the topology of your power distribution network at a high level, including how it is architected, what connects to what, and what type of equipment you are using," said John Pflueger, a Green Grid board member who is also the chairman of its technical group and a technology strategist with Dell.

"The tool will have statistics about all the various equipment. It then applies some math according to the topology and comes back with a curve for your power distribution network, to tell you what sort of efficiency you might expect for that network as a percentage of load," he said.

The other new tool is the PUE Calculator. PUE (power usage effectiveness) looks at the total amount of power being used by a data center, and compares it to the amount of power that actually reaches the IT equipment, as opposed to being used for cooling systems or wasted in inefficient power supplies.

It was the Green Grid Consortium that came up with the PUE metric, which is catching on as a way to measure the energy efficiency of data centers.

The calculator will take into account subsystems within data centers, which might have a different PUE number from the facility as a whole. In particular it is a response to the use of containerized data centers, or small, standalone data centers packed into customized shipping containers.

The online tool lets companies enter the PUEs of their various subsystems and come up with a result for the facility as a whole, said Mike Patterson, chairman of the Green Grid's technology and strategy working group, who is also a senior power and thermal architect at Intel.

PUE numbers have been used as a marketing tool by some Internet companies to show off the efficiency of their facilities. Patterson said a more suitable use is for comparing the efficiency of a single data center over time, as a way to gauge the success of energy-efficiency projects, for example.

The average data center has a PUE of approximately 2.0, meaning less than half the energy supplied to the data center actually reaches the IT equipment. The maximum PUE that the Green Grid will recognize is 1.0, meaning all the energy is reaching the IT equipment -- something that is very hard to achieve.

But some companies have reported PUE scores below 1.0, sometimes because they generate some of their own power on site. The Green Grid is working on a metric that will take on-site power generation into account and allow companies to have sub-1.0 scores, Patterson said.

The Green Grid has decided to focus on PUE as its preferred metric for simplification purposes. It originally came up with a second, very similar metric, Data Center infrastructure Efficiency (DCiE), that measures the same thing as PUE in a slightly different way.

"Everyone has sort of rallied around PUE," Patterson said.

The group is also presenting improvements to another tool Thursday, its Fresh Air Cooling calculator. It takes publically available temperature and humidity data and allows companies to calculate how many days of the year they could use fresh air to cool their data centers, as a supplement to standard cooling systems. Last year the consortium added Europe and Japan to the regions covered by the tool.

It also released a new white paper recently, on the impact of virtualization on data center physical infrastructure.

The consortium would like to get feedback about its new tools. Comments and questions can be sent to powerdata@lists.thegreengrid.org for the Power Efficiency Estimator, and puee-comments@lists.thegreengrid.org for the PUE Calculator.

There's been a sharp increase in focus in recent years on the amount of energy used by data centers, in part because they are becoming an increasingly costly component of many organizations' operations.

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